CAMPAIGNERS are calling for action over 'shambolic' rail and bus services which they claim discourage people from using public transport – amid worries that cuts could cause a ‘spiral of decline’.

South Western Railway's Weymouth-Waterloo services, which ran twice hourly pre-pandemic, are currently running only once an hour – a service introduced in the wake of Covid.

The operator introduced an emergency timetable to cope with staff shortages due to the Omicron variant from January 17 to February 21 which cut direct services to the capital.

These have since been restored – but campaigners say the service is not good enough with fewer trains and no late service. They are worried services won’t return to their pre-Covid timetables, even when the summer timetable is introduced in May.

There is also concern about local bus services, particularly those which are supposed to connect with trains at Dorchester.

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Barry Thompson, Chairman of Dorchester & District Labour Party, said: “The replacement timetable for South Western Railways valid February 21 to May 14 leaves much to be desired.

Dorset Echo:

“The service west of Poole and Bournemouth is shambolic - we always seem to be forgotten. Now we only have one train an hour each way Monday to Friday from Weymouth to London Waterloo.

“People keep saying that the service has returned to normal since the ending of the Omicron timetable, but it hasn’t, there is no late train Monday to Friday, and it is still only one an hour.

“There are people who travel to football games and the Mayflower theatre in Southampton that can’t get back now as the last train runs earlier. I’m worried that come May things will stay as they are.”

Weymouth resident Dave Johnston, who has campaigned for better rail services, shares similar sentiments and worries that Weymouth and Dorchester will become 'a branch line'.

He added: “What irks me most is that during the SWR cut-back of our Weymouth-Waterloo frequency to one an hour, a greater frequency has been evident from Poole.

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“Already there are more passengers using trains again but a restriction of just five carriages to Bournemouth is beginning to show uncomfortable conditions. This could be counterproductive and so there is a need to double up to two an hour.

“Another problem is that the last train from Waterloo to Weymouth is 21.30 while there are two later trains that go only as far as Poole.”

Bob Driscoll of the Western Area Transport Action Group (WATAG) is also unhappy with rail services.

Mr Driscoll said: “We were very cross and concerned when they pulled the plug on all direct trains to London, which they did with no notice, but we were very glad that was a short-lived event.

“It’s been difficult for everybody but there’s no question that the demand for travel has dropped during Covid.”

With a new summer timetable due in May, Mr Driscoll encourages people to be patient.

Mr Thompson also expressed concerns with bus services in the area that are run by First Wessex.

He said: “Dorchester station used to have a connecting bus every hour that went to Bridport and Lyme Regis. Now there’s only five a day, with the last one at 6pm, so nobody can connect. This is supposed to encourage people to use public transport instead of cars.”

Mr Driscoll admits he shares the same concerns regarding car use and in an ideal world there would be connecting trains much later in the evening.

The transport action group have asked for money to improve the bus services as part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan.

Mr Driscoll added: “If we want people to switch from using their cars then it needs to run more frequently and at times people actually want to use them. This is a climate issue.

“It’s a slippery slope and short-sighted to keep cutting services in the hope the remaining ones will pay.

“If you make the services left so unattractive that people don’t want to use them anymore then you get into a ‘spiral of decline’ which is where a service is reduced, fewer people use it, then because fewer people are using it, they cut it even further, and eventually the inevitable happens.”

A South Western Railway spokesperson said: “The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people work, travel and play, and it’s essential that we adapt to the new normal – especially at a time when the taxpayer is heavily subsidising the railway.

“With our commuter numbers reaching around 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and customers telling us that they expect to ultimately make 60 percent of the commuter journeys they used to, we are amply meeting demand by running 85 percent of services.

“As we have throughout the pandemic, we remain committed to constantly monitoring capacity and demand, and providing excellent services for customers across our whole network”.

A spokesperson for bus operator First Wessex said: “We currently connect with a good proportion of trains at Axminster and Dorchester and this has been the case for many years.

"The service, X51, is designed to provide road transport links between Axminster, Lyme Regis, Bridport, Dorchester and Weymouth. The services operate along part of the Jurassic Coast and therefore carries many tourists particularly in the summer.

"If possible, and where we can, we will try and provide connections for national rail at either Axminster or Dorchester station. However, it is not always possible to provide connections for all journey opportunities on the rail network due to the service having other demands.”